Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

Good news in higher ed

Yes, that category exists, as this article by the Washington Post’s Jay Mathews (my favorite education writer) attests. I agree with virtually everything he says about freshman "great books" requirements, objecting only to his characterization of my institution as "small and little-known." Harumph!

Update: Paul Stern’s comments on the effect of Ursinus’"Common Intellectual Experience" bear quoting in full:

Opinions are like our homes, familiar and comfortable. More specifically, they’re like that picture on the wall in your kitchen -- you’ve seen it so often, it’s so familiar, you no longer even recognize that it’s there. It’s only by leaving the comfort and familiarity of your intellectual homes, by subjecting your opinions to the challenges of others, that you begin to recognize your own starting point because then you can no longer take it for granted. . . .


But thinking about them by yourself is not enough. . . . Make the arguments that support your view -- make them to your classmates, to your teachers, to your friends. And then, listen carefully to their arguments, and be willing to change your mind if you find their arguments sufficiently compelling. Because of the common character of this course, you can engage in this conversation night and day, in and out of the classroom.

Paul has, I think, captured very nicely the intention and spirit underlying and animating the "Great Books" approach to liberal education. The purpose is not simply to wrench people from their cultural or intellectual moorings--liberating them to be endlessly critical--but to enable them actually to own their opinions by understanding them fully. Of course, in some cases we may find that our opinions can’t be defended. In others, we may discover that our allegiance to them becomes much more solid.

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